THE CULTURE OF FURY AND INSULT! When Tapper’s panel discussed that new law, an unhelpful pattern emerged: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 3, 2010
This just in on the weather: Were a bit under the weather today. For that reason, we will postpone our comments about Obamas weekend speech concerning open minds and civility. Later today, though, we will be posting a large chunk of Chapter 5 at How he got there, our incomparable companion site. Comments on that tomorrow.
THE CULTURE OF FURY AND INSULT (permalink): For the moment, put aside your views about Arizonas new immigration lawyour views about the original law, your views about the law as it now stands amended. Instead, consider the way Ross Douthat opens his column in todays New York Times.
For the record, Douthat says this about the new law: On the specifics of the law, Arizonas critics have legitimate concerns. But first, he offers this assessment of the debate which has blown up around the law:
Douthat isnt totally even-handed herecorrectly or otherwise, he says that liberals started it!but he makes a reasonably good attempt. Critics of the law went right after motive, he saysand they tossed the standard assessments around. Defenders of the law then returned the favor.
But whatever one thinks of his digest of insults, we think Douthats larger assessment is hard to dispute. The debate about the Arizona law has become a storm of insults, he says, rather than an argument.
For our money, thats a fairly good description of yesterdays panel discussion on This Week a 16-minute segment about the new law which shed amazingly little light, but created a good deal of heat. As we watched the segment, we thought of the way Pundit Culture has often worked over the past twenty years. Lets reduce a familiar pattern to three basic steps:
Yesterdays 16-minute panel discussion made us this think of culture, which obtained quite strongly during the Clinton/Gore years. You can watch most of the discussion at ABCs web site. (For the first chunk, click here. For most of the rest, click this.) You can read the full transcript of the discussion (just click here). If you watch, you will see a profoundly unenlightening discussion in which a five-member panel splits largely four-to-one against the law. Pundits express their grandiose moral objections to the law, while shedding absolutely no light of any aspect of this debate.
Alas! Our old pal Bill Maher, whose work we greatly admire, was the worst offender. (Bill got in some fiery but incoherent race talk, showcasing his own moral grandeur.) But Al Sharpton, someone else we generally admire, wasnt far behind. Consider this trio of comments, two of which were directed to George Will, the new laws lone (apparent) defender on the five-member panel. Guest host Jake Tapper was supervising ABCs unwieldy quintet:
Three times, Sharpton noted that the bill had been amended over the weekend. But he could only interpret this to mean that the law had thereby been shown to be wrong. Could this action also mean that some flaws with the original bill had thereby been fixed? In sixteen minutes, the question was never raised. No one ever described the ways in which the original bill has been amended, nor did Tapper ask anyone to do so. But this is how Pundit Culture typically works once a Standard Group Judgment has been reached.
Whatever one thinks of Arizonas law, Tapper presided over a long, uninformative and basically unintelligent discussion. Whatever one thinks of this new law, this long discussion shed a lot of heatand very little light. Pundits got to showcase their fiery moral greatness. But whatever one thinks of this new state law, most viewers left this discussion knowing nothing about this new law that they didnt know coming in.
Do you know how the law has been amended? Sharpton referred to this matter three times. But at no point was anyone asked to explain what has been changed in the original lawhow the law has been refined.
In the case of this state law, liberal and mainstream pundits stand opposed to many (not all) conservatives. But as we perused the press corps this weekend, we were struck by the lazy, uninformative ways some Big Liberal Pundits performed their work.
If liberals want to persuade the public, something more durable than insult and assessment of motive will typically be required. Did Frank Rich provide it? Michel Martin? Charles Blow? We were struck by their groaning factual errorsby the lazy intellectual work with which they tried to support their Standard Moral Postures.
Tomorrow: Is Frank Rich keeping current?